Ai Weiwei is a world-famous artist based in China. He was detained for three months by the Chinese government earlier this year, and was ordered not to travel, speak in public or post to Twitter for a year. However, not long after his release, he started to post to Twitter and speak out again. He was recently sentenced to pay $2.3 million tax, but he has already collected about $1.4 million from his fans. His ‘tax battle’ against the government is called a ‘social performance.’
As this article says, “when Beijing tax officials delivered the massive bill to him on Nov. 1, scanned versions appeared on his Google profile page within hours. Responses from his company’s lawyers and tax office receipts are also posted, as is a daily tally of money that supporters have sent. Volunteers even post pictures of the cash donations that land in his yard.”
Ai Weiwei is best known for his designing of the 2008 Beijing Olympic stadium. For New Yorkers, he is known for the sculpture ‘Circle of Animals’ which was on view at the Central Park Grand Army Plaza earlier this year.
He is great as an artist, but what interests me more is that it is rather his social media than his art that made him an epitome of ‘freedom’ or ‘individualism’ in China. He also said, “the Internet is what affected me and has opened up so many doors and has ignited me.”
Although China does not allow access to Twitter, people find ways to work around that. Because Ai writes in Chinese, there are people who translate his words into English.
This 54-year-old man never used computer. He did not even know how to type until 2005. In 2005, he started to blog and has been drawn to Internet media so far.
In 2008, Ai recruited volunteers on Twitter to compile the names of thousands of students who died in poorly built schools that toppled during a massive earthquake in Sichuan. He posted the names to his blog. He later made an installation piece out of 9,000 children’s backpacks. The Chinese government shut down his blog in 2009, but he now has more than 110,000 followers at Twitter. He writes things such as “In an environment without public platform or protection for associations, the individual is the most powerful and most responsible” or “You have to act or the danger becomes stronger.”
Ai’s father was a poet in Mao Zedong’s era, and was accused of championing free speech. Ai flew to New York at the age of 24, and witnessed activists’ movements in New York during the 1980s. Therefore, his political consciousness must have been developed from his earlier days. Maybe he just did not have chances to express his thoughts, and social media opened up doors to him to hone his critical consciousness.
News about Ai Weiwei is being updated every moment now, and the world is talking about whether one artist can change China or not. I am not Chinese, and I do not know the answer. I do not know how Ai Weiwei’s social performance will end. However, one thing is for sure, I think. ‘Transparency’ and ‘openness’, which Social media can offer to anybody, are creating a new era for China.
A documentary film “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” will be released soon.